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Villaraigosa picks S. David Freeman as environment deputy

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has selected S. David Freeman, the onetime head of the Department of Water and Power, as the deputy mayor assigned to carry out his environmental agenda.

Viewed by activists as an elder statesman on green issues, Freeman will focus primarily on the mayor’s clean-air and water conservation measures, as well as the effort to resurrect a solar energy plan that was narrowly defeated in last month’s election.

Freeman, 83, had no comment when reached at his home, and a Villaraigosa aide, while confirming that the selection had been made, did not comment further.

But environmental leaders who learned of the hire immediately praised it, saying they have been impressed by Freeman’s tenure on the Los Angeles Harbor Commission, where he helped Villaraigosa win passage of a sweeping clean-air policy. “David Freeman is a maverick for the environment,” said Coalition for Clean Air President and Chief Executive Alberto Mendoza.

The hire comes a few days after the mayor made creating “clean technology” jobs a major theme of his State of the City address. And it follows weeks of complaints from a handful of Villaraigosa supporters about H. David Nahai, who was picked by the mayor in 2007 to run the DWP.

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Brian D’Arcy, who runs the DWP’s powerful employees union, has criticized Nahai over his handling of Measure B, the solar proposal, and other renewable energy measures. His words were so strong that a coalition of environmental leaders, worried that Nahai was politically vulnerable, wrote the mayor restating their support for the DWP executive.

As a deputy mayor, Freeman could serve as a bridge between Nahai and D’Arcy. He worked with D’Arcy between 1997 and 2001, when Freeman was running the DWP, and campaigned with D’Arcy for Measure B this year.

As the current harbor commission president, Freeman also has supervised the effort to begin replacing up to 17,000 diesel trucks at the port with cleaner-burning models. That effort has been complicated by a court ruling that questioned the legality of certain portions of the clean truck plan.

Freeman will replace Deputy Mayor Nancy Sutley, who left earlier this year to work for President Obama. He has a background in energy policy that spans several decades. He was Gov. Gray Davis’ top energy advisor during the state’s electric utility deregulation crisis and recently wrote the book “Winning Our Energy Independence: An Energy Insider Shows How.”

“He’s more forward-thinking about renewable technologies than just about anybody,” said Rhonda Mills, who works for an advocacy group that favors wind and solar power. “He’s always talking about what the future should be, and he thinks the future should be right now.”

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david.zahniser@latimes.com


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